The bows and paper have been tossed by now. The clothes that didn’t fit have been returned. Perhaps you are satisfied with all the gifts you gave and received. We hope so. We all love the satisfaction and joy of knowing that the recipient likes what we gave them. But maybe some of us forgot a very important gift. This gift would benefit the recipient in immeasurable ways, while also liberating the giver from increasing bondage, providing vivid testimony to the gospel, and showcasing Christ-like love to the unsaved world. What gift could do all this? It’s the gift of forgiveness.
In his book Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns helps us understand that forgiveness is not only right (in that it glorifies God by obeying His will), but it is also best. God, as the standard of holiness and goodness, will only require of His people those things which are best for them. Our joy is completely full only when we live in submission to God’s design for our lives. And part of God’s good design for us is forgiveness to those who’ve sinned against us. Forgiveness is not a bitter pill to swallow; it is the doorway to maximum joy and peace.
Our ability to forgive others is a result of God’s forgiveness of us, and our desire to forgive others is based entirely on His forgiveness of us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Brauns highlights three ways in which our forgiveness must mirror God’s forgiveness of all those who’ve been redeemed:
1. Forgiveness is gracious (Eph. 2:8,9; 2:4; I John 4:10).God’s forgiveness toward us is a gift motivated by His love for us (Eph. 2:4). But though this gift is graciously offered to all, this gift wasn’t free: God paid for it with the blood of His Son’s death (I John 4:10). In the same way, our forgiveness of others must be freely offered even though it is costly. There is nothing that we have done or ever could do to receive God’s forgiveness; He graciously offers it because He is gracious. Our offer of forgiveness toward others must not be dependent upon their efforts, their remorse, or anything else we want them to do, feel, or say. And it will be costly. We will need to die to ourselves, our desire for revenge, and our pride.
2. Forgiveness is conditional.God’s forgiveness is graciously offered to all, but it’s only given to those who repent and believe (Acts 20:21). God’s forgiveness is dependent; it is conditional. Like any present, God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ must be accepted, or “opened.” As we graciously offer forgiveness to those who have legitimately wronged us, we pray and plead that they will accept it by humble repentance, just as God pleads with all to accept His forgiveness by repentance. Forgiveness is conditional in that both parties involved must be committed to the new life together. Forgiveness is not possible where humility is not present.
3. Forgiveness is a commitment. When God’s gracious offer of forgiveness (that is motivated by His love and costs the death of His Son) is accepted through repentance and faith, God justifies that person. He commits that He will no longer hold that person’s sin against them. There is a legal transaction that frees that person from the condemnation and punishment that was deserved. When we forgive another individual, we make a similar commitment. We enter into an agreement that, though wrong was done, we will no longer hold that sin against that person. Our forgiveness has freed them from the debt that they had accrued.
And this commitment is not temporary or insignificant. True forgiveness means that we are committing to never bring up the offense again – not to that person, not to another person, not to God, and not to ourselves. This is the commitment that God makes to us in Christ. He commits to remove our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). What tremendous hope is found in this truth! “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:3,4)
Of course, forgiveness does not mean that all consequences of wrongdoing are immediately eliminated. Because sin affects others, consequences of sin must sometimes be carried out. And it is in this very process where forgiveness can be most sweetly displayed: Those who are truly repentant and have been forgiven are most ready to accept the consequences of their sin.
Forgiveness frees us from the captivity of revenge. This world tells us that revenge is our right, and that we ought to get even with those who’ve wronged us. But this is in direct contrast to God’s Word. See, in God’s economy, those who forgive others are carrying out the very essence of the gospel. Those who have been forgiven are to be the ones who forgive, and they are to forgive in the very same way they’ve been forgiven. As a result, joy and peace will flood into our lives.